August 4 - Weekly Rap Spotlight:
A Spin with Juan Jose Haedo
JUAN JOSE HAEDO - TOYOTA-UNITED'S SURE THING
Not only did the Amgen Tour of California make its debut last February, but so did a new professional cycling team: Toyota-United. Racing in red, white and blue stars & stripes kits, the rocket's red glare was provided by a 25-year-old sprinter from Buenos Aires, Argentina: Juan Jose Haedo. J.J. had a great week, winning two stages (stage 1 and stage 4) and finishing second in the final stage. The previously little known former track racer on a brand new team was handily beating some of the best ProTour sprinters in the world. J.J. who? The cycling world was forced to quickly take notice of this fourth-year speedster.
Although his first love was soccer, J.J. comes from a family of cyclists, including his father, who was a top sprinter. On the track, J.J. won three gold medals in the junior Pan American Games, won gold as a senior and captured bronze in the Pan American Games. But there was no money in track racing in Argentina. J.J. heard that money could be won racing criteriums in the U.S. He got his first taste in 2000 and turned pro with Colavita three years later. Last season, J.J. won six races, including two stage wins at the Redlands Classic and the Bank of America Invitational, which is perhaps the richest one-day criterium in the U.S. We caught up with him on the eve of this year's Bank of America Invitational where J.J. hopes to successfully defend his title on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina. J.J. still lives in Argentina during the off-season, but resides in Brentwood, California during the racing season near a handful of his Toyota-United teammates. We talked to him about the Amgen Tour of California and other subjects on and off the bike.
TWR: What were your goals for this year's Amgen Tour of California?
JJ: Win stages. This was the first race for the team and as a new team, we knew it would be hard getting everything together and learning how each other races. We were racing for stage wins.
TWR: What was your greatest memory of the Amgen Tour of California? Which was your favorite stage?
JJ: The fans and how many people showed up to watch the races. The roads were great, the hotels were great and I won two races and took second in another. I clearly remember the crowds. They were much bigger than we expected. The Santa Rosa stage and the one that went through San Luis Obispo were my favorites. Probably Santa Rosa was my favorite because I won the first stage by a big margin. I didn't expect to win by as much as I did. Guess I had good legs that day.
TWR: Did you know how good your form was coming into the race? Did you think you could win stages?
JJ: No, but I knew I had good form at training camp. We had our camp a few weeks before and I was climbing well. Anytime a sprinter is climbing well you know he has good form. But it's hard to know really because training is so different than racing so you just don't know. I knew it would be hard to win, but I thought that I could because I believe in myself.
TWR: You scored Toyota-United's first win ever. That must have been a special feeling.
JJ: It really was special. It put the team on the map right from the beginning. We gained a lot of fans right away. People started cheering for us from the side of the roads. Our presence was definitely felt by the other teams after that win.
TWR: Did you think you'd be able to compete against and beat the ProTour sprinters?
JJ: I knew it would be really hard, but like I said earlier, I really believe in myself. I had been feeling strong and thought I had a chance.
TWR: How did competing in the Amgen Tour of California help you this season?
JJ: It gave me confidence. Beating those guys gave me the confidence I need for whenever a race comes down to a sprint. I'm 100% positive and I know that I can win. That was a big thing for me.
TWR: How many races have you won thus far this season?
JJ: Eleven or twelve. I won about the same amount last year, but this year they are bigger races.
TWR: Who are your favorite sprinters? Whose wheel do you want to be on in the last 200 meters?
JJ: My dad. He's always been a big inspiration for my career. He was on the national team in Argentina and used to go to Pan American games and the Olympics on the track. In the last 200 meters, I'd want to be on the wheel of any of my teammates: Ivan (Dominguez), Justin (England), Mariano (Friedick)...I have confidence in all of my teammates.
TWR: What are your plans for next season?
JJ: I'm really happy with Toyota-United. But I also know to improve that I might have to go race in Europe. We'll see. Don't really know yet and it's all a bit confusing.
TWR: What would you be doing if you weren't a pro cyclist?
JJ: I'd be playing professional soccer. I played for 5-6 years as a kid, but everyone in my family was more into bike racing so eventually I got into it as well. But soccer is big in my country.
TWR: What other interest, hobbies or things do you like to do aside from cycling?
JJ: Relaxing. No, seriously I miss riding my motorcycle. I have one at home in Argentina. It's nothing big, but I just love riding it. It's a great feeling just riding around going places on it.
TWR: What are you most looking forward to doing during the off-season?
JJ: Spending time with my family and friends back home. My brother is racing in Spain and he and I are very close. I really miss hanging out together. During the off-season I ride, but I also do a weight-lifting program. I don't touch my bike on Sundays during the off-season at all. I balance my life out.
TWR: What's your favorite city in California? Why?
JJ: Santa Rosa. I've been going there for years during the off-season for training, although I didn't get to go there this past year. The roads are so beautiful. It's an amazing place to ride. You can go north there and get onto some climbs and you see maybe only two cars on 6-7-hour rides. There are some well-known group rides there that people do, too.
TWR: Are you planning to come back to the Amgen Tour of California next season? Will you be racing for the sprinter's points jersey?
JJ: Yes, hopefully depending upon whatever my destiny is. The roads are beautiful and we got lucky with the weather. I really enjoyed the race. I really wish we had lots of Tours of California throughout the season. Maybe I'll go for the sprinter's jersey. I missed it this year by only two points. I just need to go for another intermediate sprint to get the points I need. It was so close this year.
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Now is your chance to be an Amgen Tour of California winner. This month, we're giving away an Amgen Tour of California program and poster signed by Toyota-United's sprint sensation Juan Jose Haedo, winner of two stages in this year's race. This contest closed on August 31, 2006.